Leadership Required

Recently I had the opportunity to meet with the recently appointed Director of the Department of Children and Family Services, Philip Browning. What every one knows is that his job is a thankless one that requires someone to not only safeguard the interests of very vulnerable children and families, but also be an astute manager and a savvy politician. The door to the DCFS director’s office is a revolving one that has seen many very capable and dedicated men and women come and go in short order.

Philip Browning comes to this position rightfully recognized for his administrative skills. In the short time he has been in the position, he clearly has demonstrated not only a keen interest in the children and families served by DCFS, but a willingness to learn from both his staff and the community. The question is: will that be enough?

Like any large organization, DCFS needs a consummate beaurocrat who can maneuver the maze of requirements and interest groups, but at the end of the day, whether it is DCFS or Hillsides, we are measured by what we accomplish for each individual child, youth and family. Have they been kept safe? Have they improved in our care? Are they on the road to a stable, permanent home? These are the questions that will measure success.

No single person or organization can do justice to the challenge of effectively responding to the needs of a very vulnerable population at a time of extraordinary fiscal constraints. Only collectively as a  community can we hold out the hope of being successful. As a result, more than anything else, we need a leader with a sense of vision and purpose and a clearly identified strategy. DCFS is in the process of mapping out a direction and only time will tell what contribution Director Browning will make. Together, with others in the provider community, we offer DCFS our support as an ally in serving Los Angeles’ most vulnerable.

The challenges are great and the ramifications of our actions are considerable. In light of the ballooning State deficit, difficult decisions must be made in the next few months that will inevitably be very painful. The magnitude of the deficit can not be addressed by merely cutting programs, but will require generating additional revenues. The burden of balancing the budget can not be borne only by those whose care will be sacrificed. It is precisely in this kind of a situation that a leader must be driven by a clear sense of priorities that goes beyond balancing the budget.

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